THE SIEGE, by Helen Dunmore, is a novel set in the winter-long blockade of Leningrad in Russia by Nazi forces during the Second World War. It has just come out in paperback. It follows the story of a young woman, Anna. Her mother died in childbirth. Now Anna works in a nursery, and cares for her five year old brother and ageing father.
He was a writer whose work was considered ‘too pessimistic’ to be allowed publication by the Stalinist regime. The family live in fear of denunciation and sudden disappearances. Leningraders are used to food shortages and queues, but once the city is cut off no more supplies can get through. Rations are constantly cut, and people seek nutrition from any available resource.
The novel shows an official, Pavlov, doing ‘impossible arithmetic’. How long will supplies last among the three and a half million population? An out of favour actress joins Anna’s family, along with her lover Andrei. Their relationships develop and shift during extreme circumstances. Dunmore vividly describes the experiences of malnutrition and hunger. Every day is a battle against hunger and cold, to collect the rations and survive.
Dunmore’s previous novels, like Burning Bright and Talking to the Dead, explored inner anguish and pain. This novel goes further, and is a gripping read.
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